The student news site of Wayland High School

Wayland Student Press

The student news site of Wayland High School

Wayland Student Press

The student news site of Wayland High School

Wayland Student Press

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On Monday, June 10, the annual Underclassmen Awards ceremony took place inside of WHSs auditorium.

I think that these awards bring motivation to [WHS] students to preform well academically, Sophomore Rufat Hasanov said.
WHS hosts the annual Underclassman Awards ceremony
June 15, 2024
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How WHS teachers handle college recommendation letters

Credit: Ainsley Jay
In the college admissions process, students have to ask teachers to write college recommendation letters. “[The teacher recommendation] is intended to fill in those gaps between what the grades and the scores look like, and show what the person looks like in the classroom,” English teacher Kelsey Pitcairn said.

In the midst of college applications season, Wayland High School juniors and seniors must request teachers to write them a letter of recommendation. Seniors have to submit their common application to colleges, which includes recommendation letters, in the late fall of their senior year. Most colleges ask students to submit recommendation letters from two teachers, a guidance counselor and sometimes a supplemental recommendation. This supplemental recommendation could come from a student’s boss, coach or anyone else the student chooses.

English teacher Kelsey Pitcairn says she writes an average of 23 to 35 college recommendation letters each year.

“I think in general, English teachers are often asked because we come to know our students really well through the conversations we have about the texts we read,” Pitcairn said. “We also often ask students to write personal narratives, so they have shared a lot about themselves both in and out of the classroom with us and often feel that we’re well-positioned to represent those pieces of them.”

Sometimes, students pick a certain teacher to write their letter because the subject that they teach aligns with their personal interests or what they will study in college, but also because of the relationship they have developed with the teacher.

“Some of the most glowing recommendations that I’ve written are usually for students who are kind, curious and willing to seek improvement and ask for criticism, which are things that grades have difficulty measuring,” Pitcairn said. “But I think that’s sort of what the teacher recommendation is intended to do, it’s [meant] to fill in those gaps between what the grades and the scores look like, and show what the person looks like in the classroom.”

Science teacher Kenneth Rideout says he writes 12 to 25 recommendation letters depending on the year. Rideout says some students ask for recommendation letters because they are thinking about majoring in a science field in college, but some also ask him because of the relationship they share.

“[When writing a recommendation letter], you have that template of the opener and the closer, which are not student specific,” Rideout said. “And then in the middle, I elaborate on what makes [each student] unique or interesting and give an anecdote that backs it up.”

In recent years, the college admissions process has gotten more competitive for some students. Therefore, a college recommendation letter can be a good way for admission officers to get a deeper dive into what the student is like as a person, as well as what sets them apart from other applicants.

“So many more people are applying to college now and admissions rates are falling, but I do think that admissions officers can sense enthusiasm in a recommendation letter,” Pitcairn said.

While most students submit a personal essay to the colleges they apply to, recommendation letters give the admission officer a chance to understand what the student’s personality is like and get to know their qualities from a different perspectives.

“It’s a complete mystery to me, like you never know if they actually even read your letters,” Rideout said. “I don’t really understand why students get in places and get rejected. The conventional wisdom is that [a teacher’s] letter of recommendation probably matters more for a student that’s kind of on the edge, [when] the college is thinking, ‘well, maybe we want to admit the student,’ and then maybe they read your letters of recommendation more carefully or something.”

At WHS, juniors are provided a resource called the ‘junior packet’ during the spring. Juniors fill out this packet and turn it into their guidance counselors to give them a better understanding of the student when writing their letter of recommendation.

“I think colleges want the viewpoint of the school counselor because colleges know that the school counselor knows the student academically, but also personally and outside of the classroom,” Guidance Counselor Christina Calderon said. “This includes extracurricular activities, things that they’ve gone through and maybe things they struggled with. I think it’s really important, especially for the school counselor recommendation letter, because it kind of highlights and summarizes a student in one.”

Senior Michael Wightman, who will be attending Northwestern University, says he picked Advanced Placement (AP) chemistry teacher Stephanie Giglio to write one of his recommendation letters because he was a part of a small class, so he felt like Giglio understood him well.

“I would say try to start thinking about what teachers know you best,” Wightman said. “And make sure that you’re asking the teacher early so that they have time to write a thorough letter. And then, just make sure that you’re able to provide any more information about yourself that they might ask for.”

Although a student’s recommendation letters are submitted to each college they apply to, most students are unable to see the college recommendation letters that teachers write for them. If students have any questions about the college recommendation letter process or the college application process in general, the WHS guidance department urges students to visit them.

“I think the idea of a college recommendation letter is it gives the admissions counselors an idea of the student’s character, because obviously [colleges read] the student’s personal statement, but that’s written from the perspective of the student and every student is trying to put themselves in the best light,” Wightman said. “I think [college recommendation letters] help the colleges reconcile the students’ vision of themselves with other people’s visions. ”

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About the Contributor
Ainsley Jay
Ainsley Jay, Staff Reporter
Ainsley Jay, Class of 2027, is a first year reporter for WSPN. She runs for the school’s cross country team. Outside of school she enjoys reading, watching TV, listening to music and spending time with friends and family. Contact: [email protected]
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